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Edward Teller

(1908 - 2003)

Edward Teller was a Jewish Hungarian theoretical physicist who is known colloquially as "the father of the hydrogen bomb."

Teller (born January 15, 1908; died Septeber 9, 2003) was born in Budapest, Austria-Hungary, in 1908. He graduated in chemical engineering at Karlsruhe, before earning his PHD in 1930 at the University of Leipzig studying under the father of quantum mechanics, Werner Heisenberg.  While studying in Munich in 1928 Teller's foot was unfortunately crushed by a passing streetcar and for the rest of his life he walked with the aid of a prosthetic foot. 

When the Nazis came to power in 1933 Teller left Germany after studying briefly at the University of Gottingen. He was able to leave Germany with the help of the International Rescue Committee who helped him escape to Copenhagen where he worked for a year with Nobel Prize winning physicist Niels Bohr.  After this Teller made his way to England, and in 1935 he emigrated to America where he taught at George Washington University in Washington DC before moving to Columbia University in New York where he worked with Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard on building a nuclear reactor. Teller became a US citizen in 1941 and in 1942 Teller joined the Manhattan Project team working on atomic fission at Los Alamos. He was involved in the development of the first atom bomb (1942-46) and the H-bomb (1946-53).

In 1953 Teller was appointed as professor at the University of California. The following year Teller was a key witness against his colleague, Robert Oppenheimer, who was considered a security risk because he objected to the development of the atom bomb. Unlike Oppenheimer, Teller disagreed with the idea that a scientist should consider the moral implications of research.

The author of Our Nuclear Future (1958), Teller opposed the 1963 test-ban treaty. It was Teller who convinced President Ronald Reagan of the feasibility of the Star Wars Project for militarizing space with fission-bomb-powered X-ray lasers.

Teller worked closely with Israel to develop their own nuclear military capabilities in the time leading up to the 6 Day War in 1967, and reportedly made Israeli authories swear to him that they would never sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  This is a promise that Israel has kept to this day. 

Sources: Spartacus Educational, Haaretz (January 15, 2015)